LYRIC FREEDOM Transtromer “Allegro” [text in daily revision]

I play Hayden after a black day/ and feel a simple warmth in my hands. //

The keys are willing. Soft hammers strike./

The resonance green, lively, calm.//

The music says freedom exists/and someone doesn’t pay the emperor tax.//

The first three couplets establish the situation: they describe a believable situation. This realism is typical of lyric openings. But the realism goes beyond empiricism. The “simple warmth in his hands” could go without explanation. But the next couplet enters the world of the instrument. Then the world of the music. Call it “personification” and this imaginative world connects with the music being played. Haydn. Green. Lively. Calm. The next couplet, as if anticipating objection because things just don’t happen that way—personification is a ruse— goes further: “The music says …” This way of putting things is considered illiterate by common sense skepticism.

Why “freedom”? The ethos of lyric is freedom. And so the poem begins to replace the common ethos of self-expression with the reconfigured ethos of lyric. Freedom from limiting notions of “aesthetic” happening. (Aesthetics is undergoing transformation from Romantic subjectivism to ontological phenomenological centrality.) Personification. Attribution of verbal meaning to music. Both these freedoms release the poet from restrictions dependent on the modern idea of self. This lyric freedom confronts the (rational) self as the source of meaning. Lyric is polyvocal. But as we shall see the mind/voices of the poem, informed by the lyric ethos, has a dialectical turn, self-critical, opening beyond the imagined world of the poem.


Author: Tom D'Evelyn

Tom D'Evelyn is a private editor and writing tutor in Cranston RI and, thanks to the web, across the US and in the UK. He can be reached at D'Evelyn has a PhD in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley. Before retiring he held positions at The Christian Science Monitor, Harvard University Press, Boston University and Brown University. He ran a literary agency for ten years, publishing books by Leonard Nathan and Arthur Quinn, among others. Before moving to Portland OR he was managing editor at Single Island Press, Portsmouth NH. He blogs at and other sites.

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